An African Safari is not all about the “BIG 5” and there is much more to be explored once you get beyond Africas most wanted. But still, seeing these five out in the wild is the most exciting, memorable and exhilarating experience of your life.

The term”Big 5″ originally comes from the “Great White Hunters” in the 19th and early 20th centuries. The Big Five are  the most dangerous animals to hunt on foot.  – The name sticks till this day, but now ‘shooting’ is done through a camera lens…

Here come my favorite facts about these most wanted big game animals!


1. Big 5 – Lions:

  • Lions are the laziest of the big cats. They usually spend 16 to 20 hours a day sleeping and resting. They need to save up their energy to be able to hunt and protect their territory – a tiring job that requires all the strength they have.
  • The average lifespan of a male lion is 14 years. In comparison: zebras can live up to 25 years – that is, if they don’t get eaten by the lion first…
  • A pair of lions usually mates for less than a minute, but every 15 to 30 minutes over a period of several days.
  • Lions hunt together to increase their success rate, since prey can be difficult to catch for a single lion. Hunts are successful about half the time.
  • Most lions drink water every day if it’s available, but they can go four or five days without it. Moisture can  also be obtained from the stomach contents of their prey.


big 5 lion

2. Big 5 – Elephants:

  • The oldest known elephant in the world lived for 86 years (1917 – 2003). The average lifespan of an elephant is from 50 to 70 years.
  • The elephant’s gestation period is 22 months – longer than any other land animal in the world.
  • Elephants normally only sleep 2 or 3 hours each day.
  • An adult elephant requires up to 300 kg of food and 160 litres of water per day.
  • Elephants pay homage to the bones of their dead, gently touching the skulls and tusks with their trunks and feet.
  • African elephants can distinguish human languages, genders and ages associated with danger.
  • Elephants can swim. They use their trunk to breathe like a snorkel in deep water.
  • The word “elephant” comes from the Greek word “elephas” which means “ivory”.
  • Dogs and elephants are the only animals that seem to instinctively understand pointing.


big 5 elephant

3. Big 5 – Rhinos:

  • The white rhino is the largest rhino species and can weigh over 3500 kg and is the second largest land mammal after the elephant.  Elephants can grow to be 7,000 kg.
  • Rhino skin maybe thick but it can be quite sensitive to sunburns and insect bites which is why they like to wallow so much – when the mud dries it acts as protection from sunburns and insects.
  • Relative to their large body size, rhinoceros have small brains. But this doesn’t mean they’re stupid 😉
  • Rhinoceros horns are made from a protein called keratin, the same substance that fingernails and hair are made of. The rhino’s horn is not bone and is not attached to its skull; it is also not hollow like elephant tusks. It is actually a compacted mass of hairs.
  • Rhinos have poor eyesight, but very well-developed senses of smell and hearing. A rhino has difficulty detecting someone standing only a hundred feet away if the individual remains still.  However, if the person makes the faintest sound or the rhino is able to smell the person, it will easily detect him, even at much greater distances.
  • Rhinos use piles of dung to leave “messages” for other rhinos. Each rhino’s smell is unique and identifies its owner.
  • The black rhino has a hooked lip which allows it to feed on trees and shrubsThe white rhino has a long, flat upper lip perfect for grazing on grasses.


big 5 rhino

4. Big 5 – Buffaloes:

  • It takes a buffalo bull at least eight years to fight his way high enough up the dominance hierarchy to secure opportunities to mate.
  • The bond between mother and calf is very strong. The calf is completely dependant on its mother during the period of suckling, which lasts one year.
  • Buffalo are well known for their exceptional memories. They will recognise a person or animal pack that has hurt it in the past and will attack at the next encounter.
  • Adult buffalo loose their hair when they age. To protect themselves from the sun they love to wallow in mud. Old buffalo bulls are therefore called “Dagga Boys” – “dagga” meaning “mud”.
  • When not fighting or eating, buffalos are on the alert for any distress in their family. They’re tough and not easy to hunt—taking down one adult buffalo requires the hunting prowess of multiple lions working together.

big 5 buffalo

5. Big 5 – Leopards:

  • The Leopard is the most common large cat in Africa, but ironically it is also the cat that is the most difficult to spot
  • Leopards are very shy, secretive and mainly nocturnal
  • Leopards are very agile climbers and the strongest climber of the large cats and drag their kills into a tree to keep it safe from scavengers such as hyenas.
  • Rivaling leopards in neighboring territories appear to avoid each other in some sort of “time-sharing system”.
  • They advertise occupation of a territory by marking it with urine and faeces and also leave claw marks on the bark of trees and use vocal signals

big 5 leopard

(Photo Credit: Elizabeth Bruce)


What’s your favorite African animal?

And do you have an interesting fact to share about it?

Please let us know in the comments!